I wrote Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around to guide parents toward a better understanding of their roles -- as moms and dads, as well as parenting partners -- because the core strength of a family comes from the leadership that the adults offer. To help parents discover their objectives and define their values, I broke down the process (and it is a process) into five basic behavioral "musts." I also created an anagram, or pneumonic device (or whatever you want to call it) based on the word S.M.A.R.T.
1. Set an Example - This has two parts. The first one is the most obvious interpretation. Behave as though everything you do will be mimicked by your child -- because it will be! If you're nice to the food server, your child will grow up to be nice to food servers. If you show people respect, your child will do the same. You don't have to be a saint, but it's important to realize that your child is going to reflect the behavior you teach... whether consciously or subconsciously... and that especially includes how you communicate with the people closest to you. The second part is to reflect on the examples set for you by your own parents, and to discuss them with your spouse or partner. This allows you to solidify and synchronize your values and goals, which you will then use to guide you through the parenting process.
2. Make the Rules - As part of setting an example, you should decide what values you think are most important to you and your parenting partner. If you value truth and respect above all else, for example, shape your rules accordingly. If you value academic achievement and the making of beds, work those in accordingly. Remember that "rules are the arms in which your children can embrace themselves." By following your rules, your children know they are "good," and therefore feel comfortable in your presence. Be sure your rules are reasonable and understandable. Your children will follow your lead because they understand you have created those rules to keep them safe, and to teach them to respect the feelings and property of others. My wife and I would often explain why we created a rule, and the logic behind it, so that our children would understand that we weren't just making them up for fun.
3. Apply the Rules - Once you've decided what's important, you have to stick to your guns. Little children will test boundaries, which is their job. By saying "no" together with an explanation of your reasons, you show them you care. Applying rules is as simple as guiding your children toward the behaviors that you prefer. Arbitrary rules like "you must sit at the dinner table for 20 minutes" have never made sense to me. When you see your child doing something you like (as in following a rule) just comment on it: "I like the way you're sitting quietly at the table" or "Thank you for taking your dishes to the sink." It's as much about being a cheerleader as about being a cop. Remember, every rule you create is a rule you have to enforce and too many rules make life very complicated.
4. Respect Yourself - This one is a biggie. It is inexcusable to let your child tell you to shut up -- but there are parents who allow it. You are the boss, you are the "pack leader." In order to maintain comfort for all concerned, you need to lead with the confidence that generates admiration and respect. I like to think of it this way: If you were to get into a cab and ask the driver to take you to the airport, and that driver were to say to you "OK -- I think I know how to get there," you would have two reactions. Your first would be, "Get me out of this cab!" and your next would be to realize that you have no respect for this un-prepared person. Your children are passengers in your cab. You should be far better informed about the local roads than they are. And even if you're not, you need to make them think you are, for their comfort and safety. Your life experience is your qualification.
5. Teach in All Things - If you see your child as an "Adult In Training" and you know it's your job to be their teacher, then everything you do will be informed by an underlying lesson. I believe that our basic job as parents is creating "citizens," and to teach citizenship we have to find ways to illustrate day-to-day lessons. Will we help an older person cross the street? Why do we have to wait in line? What happens when toys get broken? How does it feel to give a gift? How would you feel if someone did that to you? These are examples of the lessons that parents can and should be teaching every day. Once our kids catch on, they begin to see the lessons themselves.
There are whole chapters dedicated to each of these "Five Simple Musts" in my book. By following these very basic and doable suggestions, you can simplify the parenting process and concentrate on the wonder of raising your children. They are eager to learn what you want to teach them. Be a leader and show them the things you love about the world.
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